SUN CITY, Ariz. — Cleanup operations are continuing on Dawn Lake, where about 20 ducks died and the bottoms of numerous privately owned pontoon boats were left with a light deposit of hydraulic oil after 200-300 gallons of the substance leaked into the lake earlier this month.
Recreation Centers of Sun City officials have brought in an environmental cleanup firm to remove the oil, which appeared to be floating on the surface in several areas of the 37.5-acre lake Friday.
On Saturday, crews from H20 Environmental, Inc., were back at the lake with a containment boom and vacuum to suck the oil off the surface and pump it by hose into a portable tank. A company official said the cleanup probably would continue into the middle of this week.
The source of the leak has not been identified, although it was most likely a well owned by RCSC that feeds the lake, stated RCSC Communications and Marketing Coordinator Joelyn Higgins. RCSC officials have been working to determine the cause and type of oil, which appears light in color and not thick or dirty.
“At this point, it’s still a mystery,” said Paul Anderson, president of the Dawn Lake Homeowners Association, which represents 143 individual owners of single-family and duplex units around the private lake.
No tar balls were visible during visits to the lake Thursday and Friday, however on Thursday, the top of the concrete liner along the lake shore was darkened.
“It’s usually not that dark,” said Russ Born, chairman of the HOA’s water rights committee, which reported the spill Jan. 16 to RCSC officials. Higgins said the well pump had been running for six hours before the leak was reported. Homeowners who discovered the leak noted it was relatively small at the time and appeared to spread in subsequent days with an increase in wind. They initially contacted the HOA Friday, which in turn reached out for RCSC.
However, Born said efforts to have the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality respond were met with suggestions to contact the state’s Fish, Game and Wildlife officials or the federal government’s national spill-response center.
Mark Schaffer, spokesman with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality, said the spill investigation is being handled by RCSC and the HOA.
“ADEQ doesn’t regulate the water quality in private, manmade lakes or ponds in Arizona. The property manager told us that they had a crew on-site taking action to skim the oil off of the water surface, which is the appropriate action to take to correct the problem. The source of the oil was identified and secured. It became a Game and Fish issue after we were told that ducks were impacted since we also don’t regulate water fowl in the state,” Shaffer wrote in an email.
Each of the homeowners whose properties border the lake are part owners of the body of the water.
Born said tests have been conducted on lake water, and results are pending.
“The problem is, the laboratories are out of state, so it takes awhile for us to get those back,” Born explained.
The water-rights panel chairman said the lake is fed by water pumped from one of several wells owned by RCSC. On Jan. 16, a homeowner contacted Born to inform him of the spill.
Richard Campbell, 65, who lives near intake pipe, said he first detected an odor several hours earlier.
“I kept smelling oil, I kept looking around the house, eventually, I went out back and saw the oil in the water. I put my shovel in and pulled it out, and it stuck to it. It smelled like a hydraulic-type fluid,” said Campbell, a former firefighter in Maryland.
The well, located off 103rd Avenue, has been shut off while the investigation continues.
On Jan. 27, H2O Environmental, Inc., a firm with offices in Chandler, was brought in to begin cleanup. Joe Dalluge, operations manager for that office said containment booms and skimmers are being used as well as other approaches to remove the oil. “We use several different techniques, a special pad absorbs the oil off the water,” he said.
Dalluge did not know the type of substance on the lake.
“It has not been run through analytical. I wouldn’t be at liberty to venture a guess,” he said.
Born said the well had been shut recently for replacement of old pipe and that the leak began after it was put back into service. Hydraulic oil is required to lubricate the well mechanism, Anderson pointed out.
Higgins said the spill’s cause needs to be determined before RCSC knows whether it was covered by its insurance policy for the cleanup, which so far has cost around $10,000.
Born said geese that normally use the lake apparently detected the oily odor and did not land there.
“Usually, we have up to 50-60 geese,” he said.
Five swans were captured with help from Liberty Wild Life Rescue, he added.
The lake also has a significant fish population, with several varieties. These include chino catfish, largemouth bass, bluegills, red ear sun fish and weed-eating white amur, according to Born.
“We haven’t had any fish die; that’s a good sign. It’s the water that’s affecting the birds; some can’t keep their head out of the water and can’t regulate body temperatures,” he said.
Born said boat damage appears to be minimal, and any vessels affected will be power-washed.
“The aluminum pontoon boats won’t be bothered too much. We’re not sure at this point whether the oil is penetrating fiberglass ones or not.”